The Ashley Madison hack points a theologian toward grace

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Experts say hundreds of clergy and church leaders might be revealed in the email hack of the adultery-promoting website. One has now gone public with his repentance.

The Ashley Madison hack — the public release of emails of wannabe adulterers — has now ensnared a theologian with a famous name in some Christian circles.

Robert Craig Sproul Jr., best known by his first initials, today stepped up to face his sorrow — and teach a lesson in God’s grace in the process.

He may be the beginning of a wave. LifeWay Research executive director and Christianity Today blogger Ed Stetzer speculated that hundreds of pastors, deacons and more might be shoved into the shaming spotlight for connecting to Ashley Madison, the hook-up site specializing in folks seeking extra-marital affairs.

It’s not yet known how many church leaders are — or will soon be — publicly branded with the scarlet letter like Nathanial Hawthorne’s heroine bearing an “A” on her gown.

Stetzer advised them to“get right with God.” , their families and their churches.

And this is what R.C. Sproul Jr., does.

According a faculty biography, he’s the father of eight children, is rector of theology and chair of philosophy and theology at Reformation Bible College. He’s also a teaching fellow for Ligonier Ministries, an outreach ministry. It was founded by Robert Charles Sproul, his father, who is also chancellor of Reformation College. Sproul Jr.’s college biography also describes him as delighting in teaching “the fullness and the glory of the gospel truth that Jesus changes everything.”

Or rather, he was a professor. He was a fellow. He alerted both institutions and, in accordance with church discipline, is now suspended from both roles.

Unlike other Christians, who maintain all of us are born into sin, his sin — or rather prospective thought about maybe sinning — was outed.  And yet, R.C. Sproul Jr., is still teaching a Christian lesson.

This is what he posted on his blog today. It’s titled, “Judgment and Grace.”

The message of God’s prophets in the Old Testament amounted to this- God is not pleased with what you are doing. Repent. We miss that prophets were agents of grace as were the judgments promised. The purpose, in both instances, was to be a goad to repentance, a wake-up call. The same is true today as God works in and through providence. For the believer, judgment is always a work of God’s grace, a goad to repentance. Many Christians have bemoaned the destruction wrought by the Ashley Madison hack. The truth of the matter is that just as Ashley Madison did not create unfaithful hearts, so this hack did not create damning exposure. Rather for some it was a means of His grace.

In August 2014, in a moment of weakness, pain, and from an unhealthy curiosity, I visited Ashley Madison. My goal was not to gather research for critical commentary, but to fan the flames of my imagination. There I found two gracious judgments. First, I felt the grace of fear. Second, I felt the grace of shame. I was there long enough to leave an old email address. And within minutes I left, never to return. I did not sign up for their service or interact with any clients. I have always remained faithful to my wife even after her passing.

The grace of God’s judgment bore its fruit, and by His grace I repented of my sin. By His grace, I have also received His forgiveness, the outworking of His love. Prophetic providence had done its good office. Jesus died for this sin, but there are still earthly consequences. With the revelation of the hack has come the revelation of my sin. I recently informed the board of Ligonier Ministries, which has handled the matter internally, having suspended me until July 1, 2016. I also informed my presbytery which is also handling the matter internally. And now the world is informed.

My sin, sadly, has impacted those who are innocent- my colleagues, friends, and family. I have and will continue to seek their forgiveness. I covet your prayers.

It should be noted that the CEO of Ashley Madison’s parent company has also resigned in the wake of exposure of his own affairs.  

›Perhaps Noel Biderman should call Sproul.

  • Larry

    There are a couple of things about Ashley Madison which are ultimately very pathetic:

    1. Almost all of the women on the site were inactive or outright fake profiles used for robo-mailing members.

    2. Members had to pay to get their account deleted. But the site kept personal information afterwards.

    3. People in this day and age still labor under the pretension that there is such thing as secrecy in social media. If you are doing something online, and giving personal information in the process, it WILL be hacked. This is why banks and credit cards reimburse you for identity theft.

    So not only were the members seeking adulterous affairs, they were being fleeced by the website they were trying to use for them. Its the double shame of being both a wannabe adulterer and being plain reckless.

  • Vasta

    What I don’t understand is why would RC Jr be on an adultery website when he is a widower? Why wouldn’t he just go to a regular Christian dating website? Something is amiss about this.

  • This happened while his wife was alive, in August 2014.

  • Dominic

    Oh my, I actually agree with Larry’s statement concerning people’s ongoing belief that their private antics using social media is somehow private. I thought only movie stars were that dumb.
    Why ANYONE would sign up for a service that “specializes” in adultery is really pushing the limits of reason. Of course men of the cloth will be there. Why, I can’t begin to fathom.
    Which part of the site did not send off red flags of SIN? At least the site was brutally honest about what it was offering, it did not costume itself as a dating service, or a matchmaker org.
    It is a repulsive idea, of course, but what drew married men to Ashley Madison? You may as well just bring a hooker home to meet the “little woman” !
    Stupid, stupid, stupid.

  • This is an awfully softball treatment of a very public theologian who wrote, publicly, just weeks earlier in a separate blog post that he had never heard of Ashley Madison until recently despite apparently creating an account a year ago. He speaks of his repentance in the past tense, but still decided to, at the very least, mislead his audience about a rather salient fact that now concerns his public confession, and even just a little bit of digging into his blog would have unearthed this contradiction–it isn’t as though it was buried in the middle of a long post, it was in the very first paragraph of a post entitled “Hacking Ashley Madison.” This discrepancy calls into question your positive portrayal of Sproul’s actions as those coming from a place of genuine repentance, and it isn’t mentioned, which honestly makes it feel more like a puff piece absolving someone without doing any due diligence. From a longtime follower of RNS, please do better. Thanks.

  • Eric, links to the article that you are talking about?

  • R.c.jr’s lost his wife in 2011 and not 2014.

  • The funny thing is that having an Ashley Madison account is almost certainly a guarantee that the members did NOT carry out an affair.

    The site was dishonest about what they offered and put in fine print that it is used primarily for “entertainment purposes” (the typical dodge of psychics). The “women” on the site were largely phony accounts and robomail designed to fleece the members.

  • Jesse

    He visits a website out of idle curiosity and must step down from his position? How utterly inane! How many of those on the discipline committee have ONE time visited a porn site or clicked on any one of hundreds of pics or short articles advertised on the internet every day that are somewhat salacious in nature?

    Pastors and church leaders are being held to an ideal that is utterly unscriptural, ridiculous and totally without merit! If a pastor does become ensnared in a sin privately, he has nowhere to go except to other peer leaders who are every bit as guilty, if not more, they just haven’t been caught yet. And they will judge him harshly, destroy his ministry while covering up their own personal failures.

    Our present model of church discipline is seriously flawed. It is based on outward success and appearances rather than on relationships. It stinks! Western church leadership desperately needs to be purified in a baptism of fire.

  • I hadn’t heard about this till just now, but I think I agree with you, Jesse. You would think those who embrace Reformed theology, like the Sprouls, which tells us we are totally depraved and continuously in need of God’s grace and mercy in the gospel, would be more balanced in their discipline. What this says is in order to be a minister of the gospel you must be perfect, and if you’re not, you’re out.

  • RC Sproul Jr. is one of the most arrogant “famous” theologians that I have come across on the internet and I’m trying really hard not to chuckle in his general direction right now.

  • Vasta

    That’s why there is probably much more to this that is going unsaid.

  • cc

    He only admitted he accessed the website after he was caught. I find his confession hollow, considering his blog of July, claiming innocently that he had just only recently heard of the site. Add liar to the list along with arrogance . On that particilar blog, he complicates the plan of salvation with works that even he can’t obtain..obviously. Just present the “Good News” and leave the conviction to the Holy Spirit…..that is what Jesus charged us to do. I hope part of his wake up call is to lovingly reach others for Christ with the good news that ALL our sins have already been paid for. The word “repentance” means a change of heart as to what we believe Christ did on the cross. It does not mean we are sorry for sinning, but that we have changed our mind regarding that sin and that we trust Christ to save us from it. How many people remain unsaved because people have told them they must change their life style or they can’t claim John 3:16. I’m tired of it. Just stop.

  • Eric Rasmusen

    This confession is a good thing, and special, because he could have said he visited by mistake or made some similar excuse. Lots of Christians are willing to accept excuses. Instead, it seems he confesses that there was sin in his heart— a strong desire to commit adultery, and a first step towards action, even though it didn’t go very far, and he has shamed his employer.

  • Tom

    Is he serious? There must be alot more to this RC Sproul story than he only signed up for a sex hookup account that he (wink, wink) didn’t use. Something smells very bad here. I think he outed himself to control the story and prevent worse things from coming to light. Smart move that, especially in light of the latest revelations about his fellow hyper-religious sex voyeur Josh Duggar frequenting strip clubs and paying strippers and porn stars for kinky sex. If Josh Duggar had outed himself like RC Sproul is doing now he could have limited the damage to himself. So hats off the RC Sproul. Very clever move. He should take this year off from his ministry and run for public office. He’s make a great politician.

  • RichardP

    @Jesse: “He visits a website out of idle curiosity and must step down from his position? How utterly inane!”

    Non-profit organizations cannot exist without donations. Donations will dry up in the appearance of evil. Therefore, non-profits must and do respond to the appearance of evil. R.C. has been suspended from both the college and the ministry for, I believe 18 months. Enough time for this to blow over and then he may resume his positions.

    In his public notification / apology, R.C. refers to his “sin”. God told Eve, “in the day that you eat” you will surely die. He did not say “in the day you move toward the forbidden fruit and then stop”. I do not agree with, nor do I think the Bible supports, R.C.s declaration that simply creating an account, or simply looking, on the Ashley Madison website is “sin”. Creating an Ashley Madison account does not equal adultry or sexual sin. But – R.C. has donors to placate, which I suppose explains the groveling. But it…

  • RichardP

    Final sentence in my post above: “But it teaches wrongly.”

  • Chapsmyhide

    The reason why he chose Ashley Madison rather than a Christian dating site is rather obvious. Christian dating sites aren’t for arranging one night stands and sexual romances. Ashley Madison isn’t just for “attached” people, they also advertise it for arranging hookups for singles. The selling hook is sex, sex, sex.

  • Brett C.

    “Non-profit organizations cannot exist without donations. Donations will dry up in the appearance of evil. Therefore, non-profits must and do respond to the appearance of evil. R.C. has been suspended…”

    The problem is Ligonier isn’t really avoiding the appearance of evil but adding to the sin by misleading their supporters. R.C. Sproul Jr has been suspended WITH PAY. How is that a punishment? Ligonier donors are funding R.C. Sproul Jr having a very long paid vacation. I think when Ligonier donors start to figure out that Ligonier has deceived them they could react very negatively.

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  • Brett C.

    “Its the double shame of being both a wannabe adulterer and being plain reckless.” And therein lies the irony for RC Sproul Jr. He set up an Ashely Madison account (it’s an all too obvious lie when he says he “just visited”). But he also didn’t later pay them the $19.95 to have his account profile details deleted. But either way now we all know.

    A good analysis of this debacle at RC Sproul Jr Ashley Madison Scandal

  • Kathy

    Because he was not looking for a wife, he was looking for non committed sex.

  • Kathy

    You obviously have not read the Bible! He has disqualified himself from being a teacher or pastor ever again according to 1 Timothy, he should have to step down for life!